NEW Zealand international Leo Bertos is bidding to become the first York City old boy to play in the World Cup finals.

The All Whites are one game away from reaching the tournament for only the second time, having first appeared in 1982 when they lost all their group matches against Brazil, Scotland and USSR.

Bertos, who made four appearances for the Minstermen in 2005/6, will be a key man for the Kiwis along with Blackburn Rovers’ Ryan Nelsen and Chris Killen, of Celtic, when Bahrain visit his home-town Wellington for the second leg of an Oceania/Asia play-off after the away game ended goal-less.

The 27-year-old midfielder is set to win his 30th international cap in the vital match that takes place a week today.

Should New Zealand triumph, Bertos will become only the second player to leave Bootham Crescent and reach the World Cup finals.

Eighties’ hero John Byrne was the first when he made the Republic of Ireland’s 1990 squad but then played no part as Jack Charlton’s men reached the competition’s quarter-finals.

Scotland’s Peter Lorimer did feature – and scored against Zaire – in the 1974 finals before joining the Minstermen five years later.

While Byrne and Lorimer both enjoyed distinguished careers, however, former Barnsley, Rochdale and Chester winger Bertos headed back Down Under three-and-a-half years ago having played one game for troubled Scarborough following his unspectacular spell with City.

Since then, though, he has shone in the A-League, first for Perth Glory and more recently in the colours of Wellington Phoenix, whose official website described him as “supremely gifted” and “sublimely skilled”, not to mention “one of the finest players ever produced in New Zealand”, on announcing the three-year contract he signed last month.

Wellington currently sit in sixth place – two positions above a Robbie Fowler and Daniel McBreen-inspired North Queensland Fury – in Australia’s top-flight with Bertos leading the league’s stats for putting most balls into the box.

He played a major role as New Zealand topped an Oceania group featuring New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu and, come tomorrow, he could be contemplating rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres in South Africa this summer. Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata is clearly a big fan, saying: “Leo’s had a fantastic season for us so far and we believed it was imperative that we re-signed him and that we did it quickly before all the other clubs came chasing him. We identified him some time ago as a priority and he was always keen to stay here in Wellington.

“Leo will continue to be a significant core player around whom we can build an extremely competitive team in the coming seasons. He’s the sort of player fans love to watch because he’s always involved, he takes opposition players on and he creates chances.”

Phoenix also boast former Mansfield striker Chris Greenacre and ex-Millwall winger Paul Ifill in their ranks.